Important 1909 Roman Finish Eagle, PR661909 $10 PR66 NGC. "Time and tide wait for no man," goes the old bromide, and tastes change with the times in numismatics, as in all other things. What was once in disfavor is today greatly admired.
When the new dark matte proof gold coinage of the Saint-Gaudens design was introduced, the collector reaction was near-uniform condemnation.
The eagles debuted in 1907, and the proof eagles of that year are legendary rarities that Breen calls "so rare as to be controversial." Nonetheless, Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, in their Gold Encyclopedia, enumerate one 1907 Rolled Edge, Periods satin proof and two 1907 matte proofs.
The year 1908 is the first for which proofs are relatively available, produced to the extent of 116 specimens. Although there are a few outliers, the most commonly seen finish is a dark matte finish, one that Dr. Robert Loewinger in his reference on proof gold calls "an olive dark matte finish." Garrett and Guth write that "orders for these coins were large, as the 1908 coins were the first Proofs generally available to collectors." After the outcry arose against their distinctive, dark, and olive-drab appearance, the Mint tried a compromise in 1909 and 1910, with the Satin or Roman finish proofs. Of the latter coins, famed early pattern collector-numismatist and future U.S. Treasurer William H. Woodin wrote:
"I am surprised at the statement that the dull finish of the gold proof coins was objected to by many collectors. If any collectors objected to this finish it was because they did not understand that the St. Gaudens [sic] designs are not adapted to the production of polished proofs. The present proofs of the St. Gaudens designs and of the Pratt designs are simply rotten. I know of no other word to express it."
Woodin preferred the dark matte finish--which could not be mistaken for circulation-strike coinage--to the lighter, somewhat ambiguous semibrilliant finish of the Roman coins, which appeared neither fish nor fowl, to Woodin's view.
In any case, with the passage of a century, collectors today treasure either the matte or Roman finish proofs. The present 1909 Roman finish coin in PR66 is among only eight specimens so certified at NGC, with six finer (10/10). Examples above this level are seldom offered. When we handled the Dr. Robert Loewinger PR66 NGC coin in 2007 (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3139, it realized $51,750. The following year, a second example in the same grade sold in an October 2008 Stack's auction (lot 1078) for $69,000. A third PR66 NGC example in a Stack's auction sold earlier this year (8/2010), lot 1215, for $60,375. Finally, a PR67 NGC piece that we handled in our Los Angeles Signature (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1313, brought a strong $74,750.
The present yellow-gold example presents delightful, pristine surfaces on both sides. The only markers we can find for pedigree purposes are a pair of tiny planchet chips out of the reverse field above the eagle's wing. Otherwise, the surfaces are uniformly fully struck, with no visible ticks or breaks in the thick, rich luster. An important proof gold coin of the Saint-Gaudens design.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 28HF, PCGS# 8891)
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Revised Edition by James L. Halperin, Mark R. Borckardt, Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, and Gregory J. Rohan, with special contributor David W. Akers
The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is an issue-by-issue examination of these two artistically inspired series of gold coins.
Each date and mintmark is reviewed with up-to-date information, much of which has never been previously published. The book is based on
two extraordinary collections: The Phillip H. Morse collection and the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor collection.
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